Richard Turner: The Twelve Days of Christmas at the Chickenshed: a magical, inclusive adventure

Posted on December 21, 2015

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I never imagined that the Twelve Days of Christmas carol could take on a whole new meaning until I saw the Chickenshed theatre company’s performance of it in North London last week.

Twelve Days of Christmas blog_pipersI went with a group of friends to the Chickenshed to see this captioned and BSL interpreted Christmas play. The storyline focuses on four children’s quest to find the fifth gold ring in the Twelve Days of Christmas carol, and during their journey, they come across all the characters from the carol in various scenes, such as two turtle doves and three French hens, in a crazy Alice in Wonderland type of adventure.

The performance was so colourful and surreal that at times I felt like I was in the middle of a gigantic bizarre Acid trip. The sheer energy and powerful emotion shown by the actors on stage and their huge supporting cast was electrifying and thrilling to watch.

The set was also highly creative and magical. It was designed like a giant Willy Wonka-type slot machine, with the different numbers for the Twelve Days of Christmas flashing up to let the audience know when we had reached a specific number from the twelve days of Christmas.

This was definitely a unique production with a twist. None of the characters in the carol were how I remembered them or imagined them to be. For instance, the two male French hens spoke English with a French accent and confessed that they couldn’t speak French. The ’eleven pipers piping’ were shown as eleven plumbers dressed in boiler suits fixing the pipes in someone’s bathroom while he sat in his bathtub. Hilarious!

I loved the crazy singing and dancing too. In one scene there was a ‘Strictly Formation Dancing’ ballroom dancing contest going on where the contestants were all amateurs and none of them could dance very well, so it all looked messy and chaotic, but very funny. Other scenes had circus acrobats, beautiful singing and fast, energetic dancing as the cast threw themselves across the stage.

Twelve Days of Christmas blog_Jamaican milkmaidWhat the Chickenshed really excels in though and makes them truly unique, is their totally diverse and inclusive ethos, which came across in bucket-loads in this production. Careful planning and attention to detail ensures that everyone in the audience and cast are included and made to feel part of their unique community.

They have a cast of more than 800 people in four different rotas, which includes children and adults of all ages, disabilities and ethnic backgrounds. No-one is excluded. In some scenes I saw about a hundred children, teenagers and adults crammed onto the stage. They all looked like they were having a great time. It was brilliant to watch and feel part of it.

As well as being captioned in-house by the excellent captioner Beverley, there were two BSL interpreters on stage the whole time, who integrated their signing fully into the performance and interacted with the actors to tell the story in an effortless, seamless way. Their signing was beautiful to watch and because it is such a visual language, it added something extra to the performance, as well as making it totally accessible to the deaf people in the audience.

The show built up to a fabulous, show-stopper of a finale involving all the members of the cast on stage singing and dancing along to the lyrics of the Twelve Days of Christmas carol. The Rayne theatre, which was packed that night, was rocking as the audience clapped along to the lyrics of the song with the cast. At the end the entire cast were signing the words ‘A Partridge in a Pear Tree’ and as I looked around me, I saw children and families in the audience copying them and signing the lyrics. It was a heartwarming experience.

As I left the theatre that night, I had the lyrics ‘And a partridge, a partridge, a partridge in a pear tree’ ringing in my ears. Like a constant earworm that refused to go away, I had that tune ringing in my ears for days afterwards. That carol will never sound the same again.

Merry Christmas everyone!

By Richard Turner. Richard blogs at his own blog, Good Vibrations and works in hearing aid support for Action on Hearing Loss

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